Horses are the true teachers at Healing with Horses Ranch.
The Texas-based nonprofit provides multiple equine-assisted programs for people experiencing learning, behavioral, mental, and physical challenges. It serves three core populations – at-risk youth, veterans and clients with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy – through a combination of adaptive riding, equine-assisted learning, and equine-assisted counseling services.
“They may be paid in hay, but we see our horses as specially trained staff members that partner with us to help our clients,” says Patty D’Andrea, founder of Healing with Horses Ranch. She contends the bond between clients and their four-legged therapist deepens the effectiveness of every therapy session.
Volunteer Bethany Wager concurs. The University of Texas graduate student puts her training in health behavior and education to work at the Ranch on a regular basis. “It’s amazing to watch clients come alive when riding or working with the horses,” she says, noting how interacting with the gentle giants builds confidence, resilience and independence.
“Every day I get to see people learn how to relax, how to communicate more clearly, how to advocate for their horse because they listened to its needs,” Patty adds. “They see how when they are not focused on their horse, it gets anxious or even frustrated, but when they take a deep breath and get present, their horse relaxes.”
Best of all, clients put the lessons learned at the Ranch into practice once they leave the farm. “We don’t just touch lives,” says Patty, “we change lives.”